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Liability Insurance and Building Violations

In my construction law practice, I’m often confronted with instances of building code violations and questions of whether building code violations should subject a contractor or architect to liability. The short answer is that building code violations can lead to civil liability, albeit in a roundabout way.

Breach of Contract. In practice, better-written construction contracts address a contractor’s responsibility for complying with local building codes. Even if the contract is silent on the issue of code compliance, however, the law may impose such a requirement on a contractor anyway.

Professional Malpractice. This last is of more concern for architects in their capacity as project designers. A homeowner’s allegations that an architect failed to design a project in accordance with “accepted architectural and building standards” have given rise to a claim for architectural malpractice.

The Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit against the contractor because it had completed the work more than 12 years before but allowed that the property owner could still be liable.

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Liability Insurance

Of course you have insurance on your home, but are you protected from damage to your home or liability arising from construction work on your property? Homeowner’s insurance may not be enough to protect you, but you can negotiate for your contractor to maintain commercial general liability insurance and name you as an additional insured. Even if your contractor provides you with proof of insurance, insurance policies use complicated language and tricky exclusions that might limit the types of claims the insurer will pay. Involvement of local, qualified construction counsel early in your process of retaining a contractor is essential to protect your interests.

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